New Dayton West Branch Library offers growth and play for the community
This month, the Dayton Metro Library West Branch opened to the public. The building sits near the site of the old Wright Brothers airplane factory and the home of Paul Laurence Dunbar. The new branch has been years in the making as part of the Dayton Metro Library’s project Libraries for a Smarter Future. The multi-year effort was funded by a $187 million bond that voters passed in 2012. The 24,000 square-foot building features a tech studio, a playroom and even a portable kitchen.
The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Winnie Johnson: When you walk in here into the children's area, the first book display that you're really going to see is our African-American books. What the kids are going to see, they're going to see them. They're going to see brown children. The first thing they're going to see is, hey, I see me in this library and I am somebody because I’m in a book. That's what the kids need to know. There's so much negativity out there that the world has perceived that when you see African-American kids together, they're up to no good. It's always that negative. Coming into this library, we're letting them know you are good.
Alejandro Figueroa: I’m seeing a lot of purple in the carper, in the walls and I wonder if there’s any significance in that?
Johnson: Purple is the symbol of royalty. From our people, kings and queens of Africa. A lot of times that's the part that's missed in our history. Our history always symbolizes us as slaves. But in the early history, back into the generation, back with the Egyptians, the pyramids, we made the pyramids. We are that culture and purple is royalty because we are that generation from kings and queens. That's the one thing we want people and we want to teach our children.
Figueroa: What role do you see this new space playing in the community here?
Johnson: This is free, and that is the thing. Education and learning should be free. And until we can get free colleges and free tuition, this is the second best thing that we can do for our community is make it free. It gives people the chance. The library is the only place that the have-nots have a chance. Here you can come, and we invite the haves, come on in. Come and collaborate and help us offer to the community things that's going to make our place better, safer, healthier. Education should not be tied to the elite. That's why we have this place here. That's why we're giving them all the opportunities. We don’t charge for anything, it’s free. It’s that place where you can say I can make a difference, and we can help you make that difference.
Figueroa: Why is that important to the community around here at a time like this when people are paying attention to the decades of disinvestment to this part of the city?
Johnson: Because it's now time to grow and it's time to put this community back together. For so long the west side has been just forgotten. It's a forgotten place, but here on the west side there’s strong kinship. Community growth is necessary because this is our children's future and we have to start investing in our children. We have to start investing in their future. What better way to do it is to revitalize this area so our children could be our future and take care of us as we age, because if we forget about our kids, then life doesn't go on.
Figueroa: Winnie, thank you so much for giving me a tour of the library today.
Johnson: Well thank you. Come back again, I enjoyed it.
Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Support for WYSO's reporting on food and food insecurity in the Miami Valley comes from the CareSource Foundation.